Monday, January 10, 2022

From the sublime to the ridiculous at the Barnes foundation


Well the Barnes Foundation had a huge success with its Suzanne Valadon show. 

It’s hard to believe that “Suzanne Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel” at the Barnes Foundation is the first American museum show for this sensational French painter...

...The show at the Barnes, curated by Nancy Ireson, is a thrilling tour of her portraits, nudes, still lifes and drawings.

I saw the show in October, but it was right before Mr. Fuzz died and he was pretty sickly at that point, so I was preoccupied with worry about him and didn't really enjoy the show. I'm glad it got a good response.

So how does the Barnes foundation follow up a show about a painter who portrays women as individuals and does not flatter her subjects and uses firmly delineated lines?

With her polar opposite, Renoir, in a "January Spotlight Tour" and just to emphasize the difference the tour is called "Renoir and Women." Just look at the difference between the image above and this one. Same subject, completely different approach, visually and emotionally.

The Barnes Foundation is heavily invested in the reputation of Renoir - it has the world's largest collection of Renoirs.

The NYTimes article about the Valadon show mentions that although the Foundation founder Albert Barnes had paintings by Suzanne's son, Maurice Utrillo, he had none by Valadon. No accounting for taste.

I have loathed Renoir since I got a good snootful of him in art school - I attended both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the University of the Arts. So I was very pleased to see the "Renoir Sucks at Painting" movement which started a few years ago. They are still out there, primarily represented via an Instagram account. But they've actually done full-blown, in-person anti-Renoir demonstrations in the pandemic before-time.

I imagine the Barnes Foundation trustees were not pleased when they got wind of this movement in favor of good painting and against treacle.

Now I don't think every painting by Renoir is bad. I mean he only painted a zillion canvases, he was bound to do OK once in awhile. But his paintings of women were terrible because he was hung up on this "eternal feminine" bullshit. And most of his paintings were of women.

But this portrait of Julie Manet is pretty good. 

Partly because it was a portrait of the daughter of his friends, so she does - partially - escape the eternal feminine treatment. 

And partly because, without the usual riot of colors he used, he was forced to focus on draftsmanship.

Mostly though, because he did a great job with the cat. He should have painted cats more. 

But thanks to Julie Manet's diaries, we know what a great big honking anti-Semite Renoir was:
...she faithfully records — and concurs with — Renoir’s relentless anti-Semitism (shared, alas, by the great Degas): “Today I was at Renoir’s studio, where the talk is all about the Dreyfus Affair and against the Jews. ‘They come to France to earn money, but if there is any fighting to be done they hide behind a tree,’ said Monsieur Renoir. ‘There are a lot of them in the army, because the Jew likes to walk about wearing flashy uniforms. If they keep getting thrown out of all countries, there must be a good reason for it and they shouldn’t be allowed as much room here…. It’s unsinkable, the Jewish race. Pissarro’s wife isn’t one, yet all the children are, even more so than their father.’ ”
So fuck 'em both.

Unfortunately Degas was an anti-Semite too. But I left that out of my play. And he does come off as a bit of an asshole, the way I portray him. Even if he did love Suzanne Valadon's work.

Valadon painted cats too.

Monday, January 03, 2022

Flashmobs 2021

Whither thou, graceful flashmob goddess?
I get a real kick out of flashmobs - when they are done right. I collected some of my favorite flashmobs in a Youtube playlist.

I even made a list of flashmob rules, which nobody asked for.

Unfortunately Youtube is now flooded with "flashmob" videos that break all the rules. Even worse, in the time since I made my list, a plague of "proposal flashmobs" have appeared and that's just terrible for so many reasons. 

A flashmob is not a private party, performed in public. And that includes birthdays, graduations, any other events. A flashmob should exist for itself, alone, as a public event, not as public window-dressing to a private event.

Flashmobs were more in vogue, a hot new thing, ten years ago, so there are more entries from then and so more chances for high quality. I fear we will see far fewer good flashmob videos going forward.

It's hard to top a bikini flashmob - you go, barely dressed college kids - you flash those pasty white bodies in the California sun. You are not their toy! 

Will we ever see a flashmob video of such perfect editing as the Ravel's Bolero in the Copehagen train station with the Cophehangen philharmonic? I fear not. 

And what about this adorable Bollywood flashmob from 2010 with the college professors and (fully clothed) college kids who range in dancing ability from painfully awkward to gloriously graceful? I so adore the Black girl who jumps into the performance at the 1 minute mark. I love her casual yet joyful dancing so much I almost tear up when I watch it. It's twelve years on now, I hope she has a job that she likes - maybe as a ballet dancer or dance instructor. Also thanks to this flashmob video I discovered this (definitely not flashmob) video, called Salaam-E-Ishq, a musical number as complicated and spectacular as anything from the golden age of Hollywood musicals. 

My native Philadelphia's City Hall Park has never looked so good as in this perfectly-edited flashmob video. The dude in the business suit - especially when he's in the fountain - raises this to next level.

This video, "IDF Israeli soldiers dancing to Kesha - Tik Tok in Hebron" is not called a flashmob, but I don't know what else it is. The fact that it's performed while on military patrol raises it to the level of sublime. You can't get any better than that.

It's so difficult to find good, recently-recorded flashmob videos now, because the majority of videos labeled "flashmob" on Youtube are nothing more than traditional staged musical and/or dance performances in public spaces. It took me ages to find videos from recent years that I consider real flashmobs:

  • Flashmob 'Danser Encore' Rotterdam May 2021 makes the cut although the video starts too late and is amateurish and badly edited. Also I'm not crazy about the song itself. And the performance is a little too raw, but that's better than too polished. And at least it has the performance starts with the element of surprise and builds gradually out of the crowd. It also helps that the person to get the flashmob going looks like a street crazy. It's always good to have the instigator look a little crazy, that way it's more gratifying when the entire performance in all its competent glory kicks in.
  • Choir Flashmob: Nessun Dorma (Puccini - Turandot) is technically a flashmob although it's not exciting - they could have picked a perkier, more well-known song. But at least it's flash and it's (barely) a mob. Which is much more than you can say for the overwhelming majority of recently-published "flashmob" videos.
  • Opera flash mob in Shangri la gets big points for having many of its opera singers dressed as food servers. The soprano's entrance is especially effective. Plus this video uses split screen at a few points which I have never seen before. And the crowd reactions are great. Points off for the commercial tagged on the end.

  • Flash Mob - Funny Student Performance During a Test should not technically be included because it breaks one of my cardinal rules for a good flashmob - it's not performed in a public space. However, it is so great in so many other ways I had to include it. It has the element of surprise, multiple cameras, a familiar catchy tune but original, very audience-relatable lyrics and even live music. And the reaction of the test proctor is priceless. This really captures perfectly the benign but subversive flashmob ethos right up there with IDF Israeli soldiers dancing to Kesha - Tik Tok in Hebron. And I agree with one of the commenters - if I was the prof I would give all the performers an A.

Friday, December 17, 2021

The Beatles - Get Back - Part 6

Whut's that guvnor, the Beatles is playing on the roof? 

The Fab Four? Wait for me luv! Woot woot!

Nice overhead shot

The Beatles biggest fan.

Thanks Mo.

OK after watching all three episodes twice, I'm calling it - I don't need to hear the song "Get Back" again for a couple of years at least.

How old is PC Dagg? Thirteen?

Find someone who looks at you the way Paul looks at John when they are playing together.

After the rooftop, Ringo tried to get in on a three-way with Linda & Paul - oh Ringo!

Thursday, December 16, 2021

The Beatles - Get Back - Part 5

McCartneys are here

Ringo can be so adorable


Other times - not so much - oh Ringo!

I think Heather had a crush on Glyn Johns

And who can blame her? Look at that fashion sense.

PLUS - he tried to warn John about Allen Klein, who alas did not listen.

Yes of course.

This is when they were definitely going on the roof.

John and Paul dancing together - what's not to like?

Sunday, December 12, 2021

The Beatles - Get Back - Part 4

Probably my favorite line in the whole show.

John wanted to make Billy Preston the official fifth Beatle.

It's safe to say Jimmy Nichol was at the bottom of the Fifth Beatle candidates list. 

They didn't have to worry about Billy Preston eyeing all the women - he was gay, although very closeted at this time.

I didn't realize Ringo was a SONY camcorder pioneer.

That's a drink.

Although George does get credit for asking for a prepared piano for "For You Blue" - the "paper-prepared piano" was pioneered by my boy Erik Satie.

And he gets even more credit for sporting psychedelic proto-Uggs.

Oh look, it's Pattie Harrison for five seconds. She's the anti-Yoko.

The only Beatle woman who showed up even less often during the Beatles' recording sessions was Jane Asher. But Asher was history at this point. According to Paul's rebound girlfriend Francie Schwartz, Paul actually speculated that Jane had a guy on the side when she was on theater tour. If she did it would serve him right - Paul cheated on Jane constantly. 

I tracked down Schwartz's book with a chapter about her time with Paul. I will be writing about that soon. Beatle wives/girlfriends generally observed the law of omertà, and Jane was the most tight-lipped of all, refraining from saying a single word about her relationship with Paul ever.

Francie, however, spilled some strong tea.

Speaking of Jane, Paul gets no credit for mis-identifying Pattie as Cynthia in this video segment with Jane and Mike Love.

I did love the video clips from Rishikesh. Peter Jackson got cute, but it was great.

Get Back deep cut - what Paul is referring to here is "bagism" which started when John and Yoko gave a press conference from inside a bag. One of their more successful bits I think.

And of course...

Thursday, December 09, 2021

The Beatles - Get Back - Part 3

Oh good, Yoko has some correspondence to read. I'm glad she has something to do,
I wouldn't want her to be bored in the middle of a Beatles recording session.

Very annoying op-ed in the NYTimes by Amanda Hess the other day. She admits Ono was rude - literally using the word rude, at one point, but Hess means rude in a good way.

She perches in reach of John Lennon, her bemused face oriented toward him like a plant growing to the light. When Paul McCartney starts to play “I’ve Got a Feeling,” Ono is there, stitching a furry object in her lap. When the band starts into “Don’t Let Me Down,” Ono is there, reading a newspaper. Lennon slips behind the piano and Ono is there, her head hovering above his shoulder. Later, when the group squeezes into a recording booth, Ono is there, wedged between Lennon and Ringo Starr, wordlessly unwrapping a piece of chewing gum and working it between Lennon’s fingers. When George Harrison walks off, briefly quitting the band, there is Ono, wailing inchoately into his microphone.

And in spite of Ono's obsessive, groupie-like behavior, Hess tries to argue that this makes Ono a feminist icon and a role model for Heather McCartney.

In Jackson’s film, you can see the seeds of this generational shift. One day, Eastman’s young daughter, Heather, a bob-haired munchkin, whirls aimlessly about the studio. Then she spies Ono singing. Heather observes her with scrunch-faced intensity, steps up to the microphone and wails.

I think the psychology here is more like, Heather figured, if a grown-ass woman could scream into a microphone, why couldn't she?

I do find some things to admire about Ono, but her behavior in the studio with the Beatles in 1968-69 was appalling, to be so oblivious to the feelings of other people in a room. 

Hess compares Ono's behavior to a performance piece, but there's a more likely, if prosaic explanation: Ono was from a family of wealthy Japanese aristocrats. The Beatles were working-class musicians. In the world that Yoko came from, you didn't worry about the feelings of the people you outranked. Why should she care if she was irritating the fuck out of everybody? 

A disruptive person in the studio was not only a sign of Ono's disrespect for the men in Lennon's band, it was a sign of Lennon's disrespect for the men in the band. Hess can call Yoko a feminist hero all she wants but Yoko was a tool that Lennon used to drive a wedge between himself and the band.

Speaking of George, the buzzkill is back. Between George and Yoko, it's a miracle the Beatles didn't end in Twickenham studios.

Luckily they had Ringo...

...and Billy Preston

Unlike Yoko, Linda was a fan of the Beatles.

Great shot in the film of all four Fabs

Lennon was mainly subdued in Twickenham studios, but once they got into the Apple basement, he perked up considerably and displayed his charisma and goofy, infectious sense of humor, the things that made him, in McCartney's words, "the boss," and which made all the difference in the sessions.